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Rain Gods: A Novel

A book by James Lee Burke

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Beautiful writing can't overcome weak story.

  • Aug 5, 2009
  • by
Rating:
+3
James Lee Burke writes some of the most beautiful prose seen today. He is a master of the disappearing regional character, whether the sturdy independent types of the Northwest or the legendary languidness of an imagined New Orleans. Burke is usually a joy to read. Typically, Burke's heroes are introspective, with a checkered past often includes alcoholism, memories of wars, shootouts and what have you.

The storyline of "Rain Gods" abandons post-Katrina New Orleans for Texas. Hackbery Holland (related to Billy Joe Holland of other Burke novels) is a man haunted by his experiences as a POW in Korea fifty years earlier. Now, at 70, this former Navy Corpsman, lawyer, Congressional candidate, alcoholic and womanizer is the sheriff of a "tiny Texas town, according to the dust jacket. I'm no expert in Texas elective offices, but sheriff is usually a county, not municipal office. Small issue.

Someone calls 911 and Holland is soon digging up the bodies of nine young Thai prostitutes who were executed with a sub-machine gun (of a kind that hasn't been manufactured for decades).

The story gets complicated quickly with the introduction of alcohol soaked Pete Flores, who suffered terrible burns in his tank in Baghdad; his girlfriend Vicki Gaddis who hopes to change him Deputy Pam Tibs who obviously has the hots for the much older Holland; Nick Dolan (whose original family name was Dolinksi) who is a devoted family man, restaurateur and pimp; Arty Rooney who is in some of the same businesses as Dolan; Hugo Cistrano, a hoodlum and Preacher Jack Collins, one of the weirdest fictional serial killers to be found.

Burke writes beautifully. His language is a feast.

But this story is a mess. Hack Holland and Preacher Jack Collins both need chill pills - and neither character has a shred of credibility. The dual love stories (Deputy Tibs for Holland and Vicki Gaddis for Pete Flores) don't have much substance. The bad guys like Nick Dolan, Art Rooney, Hugo Cistrano and their helpers spend way too much time engaged in philosophical debate, though they also spend a lot of time killing, kidnapping, beating and doing the other things bad guys usually do.

The real conflict is between Hack Holland and the murderous Preacher Jack Collins. And it is more like bad Tennessee Williams or William Faulkner. Lots of psychological meanderings that ultimately go nowhere.

Is it good? Yes - but only because of Burke's exquisite writing. It is a fine book to take to the beach or on a trip. Will it stick in your memory because of the story? Probably not. This is good writing and if you consider good writing entertaining, as I do, you'll make it through the 400+ pages. If you're looking for an interesting story that hands together, though, you might have a problem with this one.

Jerry

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More Rain Gods: A Novel reviews
review by . August 21, 2012
This is a story about justice and friendship.      Sheriff Hackberry Holland's office received a call that there were shots fired behind an old church in this community by the Mexican border. He finds the bodies of nine Asian women. Later, he learns that they had balloons filled with drugs in their stomachs. The theory is that they were on their way to work in a house of prostitution.      With James Lee Burke's keen ability to describe settings and …
review by . September 24, 2009
I'd never read a James Lee Burke novel before getting my hands on Rain Gods. If his prior work is anything like this latest book, I can't believe what I've been missing.       On the surface, Rain Gods follows Texas Sheriff Hackberry Holland and his deputy Pam Tibbs as they investigate the slaughter of nine Chinese women in Texas border town. Hack is a wonderfully drawn character, an iconoclast of the highest order, and his deputy provides a great tough-gal counterpoint. Their …
review by . September 18, 2009
In his second Hackberry Holland novel, "Rain Gods," James Lee Burke explores the battle faced by Texas lawmen charged with stopping drugs and illegal aliens from crossing the state's southern border. The fact that Hurricane Katrina flushed some of the worst New Orleans scum into Texas, criminals who thrive on human suffering and weaknesses, including human trafficking, makes Sherif Holland's job just that much tougher.    Hack Holland admits to himself that he has lived a full …
review by . August 12, 2009
Normally I write a detailed review of a book. I'm not going to do so here becuase this book isn't worth it. Reading the novel is a chore. With characters that we have seen before under other names, storylines used before, and internal monologoues used before, this novel comes across as a way to start a new character and yet retread everything. I kept waiting for the book to start working for me and got to the end before it ever happened.    Quite frankly, if I didn't have to …
About the reviewer
Jerry Saperstein ()
Ranked #196
I am an e-discovery strategist, computer forensics specialist and testifying expert witness - and an avid reader.      Aside from technology books, I love thrillers, suspense, mystery, … more
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ISBN-10: 1439128243
ISBN-13: 978-1439128244
Author: James Lee Burke
Genre: Mystery & Thrillers
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
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